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Explainer: What is Hybrid Warfare and how has China used it?



The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. This line of Art of warthe famous old treatise by Chinese general and strategist Sun Tzuis, no doubt known to most people who follow conflict.

Sun Tzu’s philosophy returns to the center after The Indian Express and several publications around the world reported on Monday that a company linked to the Chinese government was monitoring numerous executives and organizations using big data. The Indian Express reported that Zhenhua Data Information Technology was monitoring more than 10,000 Indians, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, military officials, chief ministers and businessmen.

Explain the methodology used by the company, The Indian Express reported “Zhenhua monitors the digital footprint of subjects on social media platforms, maintains an information library, which includes content not only from news sources, forums, but also documents, patents , from tender documents, even recruiting positions. Significantly, it builds a relational database relationship, which records and describes associations between individuals, institutions and information.

Zhenhua Data Information Technology, according to The Indian Express, had described himself as a pioneer of “hybrid war”.

Unsurprisingly, Chinese surveillance news has shed light on a seemingly complex methodology adopted by major powers, notably Russia and China, over the past decades: Hybrid Warfare. The term hybrid warfare has been in use for about two decades and has been used interchangeably with “gray zone” operations and “irregular” warfare.

A report published by the US Center for Strategic and International Studies in August of this year used the terms hybrid warfare / gray area / irregular operations to refer to “any range of actions from non-violent economic manipulation to low levels of violence using mercenaries ”. The study also explained the wide scope of hybrid warfare, noting that “this may also involve changes in the deployment base, advisory missions, arms transfers or military exercises; claims of military zones; the use of trade sanctions and barriers; economic war; technological competition; information warfare; support from other states and non-state actors and other forms of competition designed to gain strategic and tactical advantage … “

An earlier CSIS study from May 2020 sought to define the main tools of Hybrid Warfare as follows:

1) Disinformation and disinformation operations: Stressing the importance of information, CSIS noted that “the competitors have perfected their abilities to manipulate and weaponize information to exercise power, gain influence and counter Allied narratives.” He gave the example of Russian trolls and Chinese propaganda using social media to influence global audiences.

2) Political and economic coercion: While Russia is accused of using political coercion through electoral meddling, China has used “debt trap” diplomacy in countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative to “Shape their policies in favor of Chinese benefits and interests”.

3) Cybernetic and space operations: CSIS noted that “Russia, China and Iran have actively launched major cyber attacks against allied and partner interests over the past decade, with targets ranging from banks and corporations to academia and government agencies . Hybrid space operations include actions such as jamming GPS signals. And transmitting false GPS signals … “

4) Proxies and state-controlled forces: The purveyors of Hybrid Warfare used proxy actors to conduct coercive operations “below the threshold of all-out war.” The SCRS noted China’s use of “civilian” fishing vessels operating in the disputed waters of the South China Sea as an example of such proxy forces.

A 2019 study by the United States Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) said: “Hybrid War has deep historical and cultural roots in China. Most of the elements of Beijing’s recent Hybrid War operations have echoes in Chinese-led guerrilla and insurgent campaigns in the first half of the 20th century and even as far back as Sun Tzu in 500 BC. “

The CSBA study noted that China’s hybrid warfare approach is directly supported by its ruling Communist Party and military and warned that it is always conducted with long-term goals in mind. . “When the Chinese regime launches a campaign of hybrid warfare against a major power, it is usually preparing for a protracted struggle characterized by exceptional patience and perseverance. Unlike the Western practice of striving for wins quickly and decisively, the Chinese frequently focus more on long-term positional advantage, avoiding defeat, and sustaining the campaign for an extended period, ”he said. supported CSBA.

The CSBA study gave a timeline of China’s use of Hybrid Warfare since the Communist Party came to power in 1949. It argued that China used propaganda and other war operations early on. politics in Tibet before the PLA invaded it in 1950. “The Chinese regime has stepped up its political war operations aimed at winning the support of the Tibetan population, politically undermining local resistance centers and reducing the need of a sustained military campaign, “SCBA explained, adding that China had abandoned all concessions it had made to Tibetans after the first five years of its invasion. CSBA reported similar use of hybrid warfare methodologies. misinformation and use of proxies by China in Southeast Asia and Vietnam and, in recent years, in the South China Sea.

Back to Doklam?

Interestingly, CSBA argued that 2017 Doklam clash turned out to be a disappointment for China’s hybrid war strategy. The CSBA claimed that the deployment of Indian troops to the Doklam Plateau had forced China to dramatically increase “the intensity of its multimodal political war campaign intended to sow dissent in Delhi and partner capitals, to force withdrawal. Indian and to rally the Chinese public to the cause “. Chinese diplomats and media issued numerous warnings and threats and tried to force the Indian government to withdraw. These Chinese political war operations appeared designed to intimidate Delhi, generate divisions within the Indian government and foster tensions between Delhi and the capitals of India’s regional and global partners, the CSBA explained. There were murmurs of opposition to Indian influence in the Bhutanese media during the standoff in Doklam.

However, CSBA said China’s hybrid war strategy hit a roadblock because the Indian government was transparent about troop deployments.

“Indian leaders have communicated details of Chinese operations to the international media and kept them regularly informed, which has served as an effective counterweight to most elements of the Chinese political war campaign. Beijing has had little success in sowing dissent in Delhi or undermining India’s international and international policies. security relations, ”CSBA said.

However, the think tank noted that China was not deterred by Doklam’s setback, explaining, “Beijing appears to have viewed this operation as just the first phase of what could become a wider campaign in the future. . ” The CSBA criticized the Indian government for not seeking concessions from China or seeking support from international institutions.

The ongoing stalemate in Ladakh may well be the opportune time to revisit the findings of the CSBA study.

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